Dean Ervin, the affable afternoon talk show host at 100.5 NTA FM, does more than just talk on air. He sells advertising, covers high school sports and recently started a weekend oldies program. Ervin truly is the dean of local radio.
There are radio personalities, and then there’s Dean Ervin.
In an industry saturated with bombastic, egotistical hosts who aim to solve the world’s troubles, Ervin, an afternoon host on 100.5 NTA FM, is the polar opposite. Instead of doom and gloom, his schtick is one of levity and self-deprecating humor. He not only pokes fun of himself, but makes light of most topics, from politics to Somali pirates.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously,” Ervin says. “You have to laugh. The way I deal with serious issues is through humor. Humor masks different things.”
If you’ve listened to local talk radio for any length of time, you know Ervin’s name. After selling office furniture and supplies for years, the Rockford native began a radio career in 1981, when he accepted a sales position with WYBR AM, which later became WRRR. After six months, he left for a job with WROK, where he spent 20 years, before moving on to NTA’s parent company, Maverick Media, in 2006.
Ervin wears many hats. By day, he’s an account executive for Maverick, selling advertising for NTA. At night, he hosts a one-hour talk show from 5 to 6 p.m. He’s also part of the station’s Friday night high school football and basketball coverage. As if that’s not enough, he co-hosts both a sports program and a shopping show on Saturday mornings.
This guy eats, sleeps and breathes the radio business.
“I feel lucky,” Ervin says. “I’m a guy who gets to do what he loves, every single day. There are more educated people, and a lot more talented people, than me in radio, but no one is going to outwork me. I can guarantee that.”
Ervin is competitive, too. Whether it’s landing a new account or coming up with new programming, he doesn’t like to lose. At anything. “I think I am the most competitive person in radio,” he says. “I enjoy the thrill of the win. There are going to be ups and downs. That’s life.”
Ervin didn’t set out to become an on-air personality. Back in the ’80s at WROK, he filled in one day for another host. It was a rough beginning, he recalls. He wasn’t prepared and he fretted over a lack of callers. “I was scared to death,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Over time, Ervin grew more comfortable behind the microphone, as he discovered his true talent – being fun and light-hearted, never taking himself – or anything else – too seriously. On his daily show, he promotes community events, plugs advertisers, and goofs around as much as he can. He walks a tightrope, however, on some topics, primarily due to his sales responsibilities. “I can’t really discuss politics,” Ervin says. “If I do, I might walk into a business the next day who disagrees with me. It’s a balancing act.”
And he’s willing to share the limelight. A couple of years ago, Ervin invited retired radio reporter Fred Speer, who spent 44 years at WROK, to sit in on his Monday and Tuesday shows. The longtime friends have an on-air chemistry that listeners notice. “Dean is the most generous guy I know,” says Speer. “He’s a unique individual who has a knack for getting the best out of people. He would give you the shirt off his back. He’s a loving and caring guy.”
One thing Ervin does take seriously is his passion for football. For more than 20 years, he coached junior tackle and middle school teams. That experience has helped him to become a solid broadcaster. During games, he deftly describes the action on the field with plenty of enthusiasm and keen insight. And he’s not afraid to voice his opinion, many times questioning coaching decisions and strategies. “I have to,” Ervin says. “That’s my job.”
The coaches respect his work. “Dean has the entire package, from a coach’s standpoint,” says Mike Hearn, an assistant football coach for Belvidere High School. “He’s very well-informed about your team, the opponent and the league. He’s there for the same reason the coaches are. He’s there for the players, the schools and the game. It’s not about him. He’s so friendly and easy to talk to. It’s not hard to carry on an interview with Dean. You can tell it’s his passion and not just a job.”
Over the years, Ervin has had many unforgettable on-air moments. Like the time he interviewed Max Baer Jr., the actor who played Jethro Bodine on the television show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Baer messed up a station promo.
Countless times, Ervin and Bill Koch, a station sales manager and co-host of the “Sports Huddle,” have giggled like two school kids while broadcasting a cheerleading competition or a pee wee football game.
But his most embarrassing moment came last year, during a high school football game. In the middle of the action, Ervin had to hurry off the field when nature called, which was no problem – until he realized his microphone was still on as he stood over the urinal. “There are so many people who try to be smarter than everyone else,” he says, recalling the story. “I’m not smarter than anyone. What you see is what you get.”
No laughing matter, however, are the health issues that Ervin’s encountered over the past few years, which have caught his attention. “It made me realize that I need to make all of this count,” he says. “It’s a wakeup call that time does not wait.”
The health scares have led Ervin to make some critical lifestyle changes. Recently, he started a fitness program with a trainer, which he talks about on his show. Ervin once tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds; thanks to exercise and a healthful diet, he’s now at 260 pounds, and hopes to drop another 60. He’ll provide updates along the way, on the air.
Sharing with listeners, he says, will help him to keep his feet to the fire. “I want people to realize that if this goofball can do it, anyone can.”
Away from work, Ervin has few hobbies. He likes to garden, and that’s about it. He doesn’t golf or bowl, and he seldom takes vacations. Don’t ask him about retiring, because it’s not in his vocabulary. Work, he says, is his life, and he loves every bit of it. “For me, it’s all about having a few laughs,” he says. “That’s just who I am.”
Listeners now hear another side of Ervin, who recently started hosting an oldies program that airs on Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. on 100.5 NTA. Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker – he loves them all. “If it’s good music, it will stand the test of time,” he says. “You can’t be sad listening to this music.”
For Ervin, being unhappy about anything is darn near impossible.